Recently I spent two days in Boston with my amazing, adventurous wife, Laurinda. A weekend getaway in a cosmopolitan, historic city seemed like a great way to celebrate our wedding anniversary. After all what’s more romantic than excursions to out of the way industrial parks in parts of the city with absolutely no connection to colonial American history? What could be more seductive than the environs of a glorified warehouse sans air conditioning on a hot, humid summer evening? What better way to rekindle the spark of new love than dreamy conversations over pints of hazy, massively dry hopped IPAs, while sharing a communal wooden table with bearded men?
I know what some of you are thinking, “I wonder if my wife would go for that?” While I can’t answer that question for you, hopefully this recap of our adventures can be a useful guide to your next beer outing in Beantown.
Boston Beer Company
After checking into our hotel, the compact but upscale Club Quarters Hotel (161 Devonshire St, Boston), we were ready to get an early start to our kid-free, work-free, weekend celebration of love and beer. A tour of the Boston Beer Company, aka Sam Adams (30 Germania St, Boston), seemed like a good place to start. To get there we jumped on the T and took the orange line to the Stony Brook stop. As we were making the five-minute walk from the metro stop to the brewery it became clear that most of the people who detrained at Stony Brook had the same destination in mind. Apparently we weren’t the only ones who thought a free brewery tour might be a good way to spend a sweltering Friday afternoon. We just barely squeezed onto the 3 pm tour, along with 90+ like-minded souls.
In the area where the tour group congregates banners hang from the rafters proclaiming awards won in the beer festivals of yesteryear. The effect is reminiscent of Assembly Hall, where Big Ten and NCAA championship banners hearken back to the glory days of the Bobby Knight era (to be fair Boston Beer Co. has won gold medals at the GABF as recently as 2014, and Indiana are defending Big 10 champions, but past glories are palpable at both places). Even though I knew this was not their main production facility I was still surprised at the small size of the brewery. The brewing capacity seemed to be roughly on par with one of the mid-size Columbus-area breweries, say someplace like Elevator Brewing. As the tour went on I learned that they only produce enough beer at this facility to serve local accounts, experiment with new recipes, make their barrel aged line of beers (Stony Brook Red, Tetravis Quad, American Kriek, …), and the specialty high gravity beers like Utopias. Given that mission it wasn’t a surprise to see hundreds of oak barrels and a couple of foeders in the back rooms of the brewery.
The tour itself had all of the elements one expects from a tour that serves thousands of people every week. We nibbled on malted barley kilned to varying degrees of darkness, and rubbed whole cone hops between our palms. The differences between lager and ale yeast were explained, and we were told that the main production facilities in Cincinnati and Pennsylvania treat their water to replicate the municipal water chemistry of Boston. No opportunities were missed to remind everyone that early batches of Boston Lager were brewed in Jim Koch’s kitchen from a family recipe. Our guide tried her best to engage the group, but it seemed like most people were anxious for the educational part of the tour to end and the beer samples to start pouring. Maybe it was the large size of our group, maybe it was the hot, muggy conditions, or maybe that’s typical of Friday afternoon tours.
When we did get to the tasting room three beers were served. To get a taste of the first two, the venerable Boston Lager and the citrusy, thirst quenching Summer Ale, you could skip the hassle of air travel and head down to your local Buffalo Wild Wings. However, the third beer, an unnamed schwartzbier, was a treat. Weighing in at 8.0% abv it was packed with chocolaty, malty goodness, but somehow managed to stop well short of sweet and cloying. Say what you want about Sam Adams beers, but they’ve got German Lager styles dialed in. I’ll be curious to see if it makes its way to Ohio in packaged form at some point in the future.
The tour takes about an hour and ends in the gift shop where you can purchase all manner of shag—hats, hoodies, t-shirts, key chains, bottle openers, glassware, tap handles, garden gnomes, and books. You get a free Sam Adams tasting glass with the tour and they don’t skimp on the pours, serving up a total of 30 pitchers of beer for our group. I had a seconds on both the schwartzbier and the Boston lager. In terms of liquid refreshments to purchase, there are large format bottles of several beers from the barrel aged line, and growler fills of a half-dozen beers, ranging from the standard seasonal like Porch Rocker to more experimental offerings like a cherry gose and a barrel-aged scotch ale, were available. It’s not possible to purchase beer to drink on site, but if you are thirsty for more you can head over to nearby Doyle’s Café, where Sam Adams made its public debut in 1985.
Boston Beer Works
We slipped out of the gift shop quietly, barely escaping an impulse buy of the collected literary works of Jim Koch, and headed in the general direction of Fenway Park where we had tickets for the Red Sox-Twins matchup later that evening. We arrived about two hours before game time, which conveniently enough provided time to visit Boston Beer Works.
Once again our destination had all the exclusivity of a general admission ticket to a rock concert. The Fenway Boston Beer Works (61 Brookline Ave, Boston) is the oldest of six locations in the Boston area. The layout, a spacious brew pub with two bars and ample restaurant seating, hearkens back to the brewpub feel that was in vogue in the early 1990’s when it opened. Despite its capacity there was a 30-minute wait for a table and a line six people deep to order a beer at the front bar. We had some time to kill, so we put in a request for a table and queued up for beers.
To say that the brewing team at BBW likes to experiment with fruit infusions would be like saying Lady Gaga dabbles in provocative attire. Beers containing mangoes, cherries, blueberries, watermelons, and rose hips, were all on offer. After coming to terms with the Reinheitsgebot-be-damned menu, I ordered a Tropical Mango IPA for myself and a Bunker Hill Blueberry Ale for Laurinda. As I understand it from friends who’ve lived in Boston, the latter is something of a signature BBW beer. Not content to add blueberries to the boil kettle, or during fermentation, they throw a handful of fresh Maine blueberries into the glass upon serving. The berries sink to the bottom where CO2 bubbles nucleate on their surface causing individual berries to break away from the herd and float upwards in a futile attempt to escape, once they reach the surface they release their ballast and fall back to the bottom. It’s an interesting visual effect vaguely reminiscent of a lava lamp. I’m happy to say that both beers were just what the doctor ordered for a hot summer evening, thirst quenching and refreshing. Emboldened by our good fortunes on the first round I suggested Laurinda order the Strawberry Hefeweizen to pair with our pre-game meal. That turned out to be a bridge too far. Apparently it’s best to save your strawberry-banana fusions for yogurt smoothies.
The craft beer offerings at Fenway Park are no match for Ohio’s MLB stadiums, but there are a few to be had. Crafty Goose Island beers are everywhere, while Boston heavyweights Sam Adams and Harpoon seemed a little harder to track down. New England area craft offerings included Wachusett Green Monsta IPA, Cisco Brewing Whale’s Tale Pale Ale, Magic Hat #9, and Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA. We had splurged on tickets near the first base line, and with the Red Sox sitting atop the American League East standings, the atmosphere was like a slice of Americana. So I was more than happy to take in a pitcher’s duel while keeping score and sipping on a Smuttynose. If you get bored with the game, a trip to the bar and patio overlooking right field is worth the climb.
In line with the laissez faire, hedonistic theme to the weekend we slept in the next morning, then strolled around the shops in the Back Bay area, before indulging in a midday Saturday brunch at Parish Café and Bar (361 Boylston St, Boston). They specialize in gourmet sandwiches and feature an inviting, though not particularly local, tap list. Mindful that this was likely to be the first of many stops I paired my fancy chicken salad sandwich with a pint of the sessionable, refreshing DFH Festina Peche.
With the shopping and eating out of the way it was time to get back to business. Of all the Boston area breweries none is more highly regarded amongst the craft beer cognoscenti than Trillium. After all who could resist a tasting room the size of a shipping container that only sells beer to go. That being said I’ve had Trillium beers on past visits to Boston and they are the real deal. So we jumped on a red-line train headed to South Station, and strolled past the Boston Tea Party museum to the Fort Point neighborhood just north of the Convention Center.
If it weren’t for the portable signboard they put out on the sidewalk it would be all too easy to walk right by Trillium (369 Congress St, Boston) without even knowing it. The small taproom is accessed via an alley that runs southwest off of Congress Street. We arrived around 2 pm to find only a half-dozen or so customers who like us had made the pilgrimage to south Boston in search of the perfect pale ale. There were 5-6 different types of hop forward ales available in four packs of 16 ounce cans, and three different stouts available in 750 mL bottles. The beer is on the pricey side, $13-$15 per four pack, but after buying beer in Fenway the previous night I didn’t bat an eyebrow. A few minutes later we were happily on our way with a four packs of the Pocket Pigeon Session IPA and the highly regarded Fort Point Pale Ale in hand.
In terms of ambience Trillium is roughly on par with someplace like Pace High Carryout, so if you have the time and the means I’d suggest heading to their new 16,000 ft2 production facility about 30 minutes south of Boston in Canton (110 Shawmut Road, Canton). You can enjoy their delicious beers on premises and check out the new oak cooperage they installed to service their nascent wild beer program.
Night Shift Brewing
The Trillium visit was a bit of a tease. We needed to find a brewery that served beer to drink ASAP, before the heat radiating from the sun soaked asphalt drained all of the moisture from our bodies. So after dropping the Trillium haul off at our hotel we set course for Night Shift Brewing (87 Santilli Hwy, Everett). We headed to the nearest T-station and grabbed an orange line train to Wellington Station. From there we took the bus to Wonderland, crossed the Maiden River, got out at the first stop, and cut through the Best Buy parking lot on foot. Once you reach the Teddy Bear Peanut Butter sign, which is hard to miss, the expected features of a craft brewery come into view—a large brick warehouse, parked cars lining both sides of the street, and the obligatory food truck.
After passing the unusually thorough ID check at the door we walked into a scene that was much more recognizable as a brewery tap room to me. On the opposite side of the spacious room a half dozen bartenders were slinging suds from behind a sizeable wooden bar, the room was filled with long wooden communal tables and a few strategically placed couches, light bulbs some of which were encased in whimsical brightly colored frameworks hung from the ceiling. The music from the sound system and the conversations of the patrons were echoing off the walls and ceiling, which made conversation mildly challenging. At one end of the room a TV was curiously showing a rerun of a Boston Bruins hockey game, but no one was watching. Behind a set of glass doors people were playing corn-hole near the fermenters. A dog laying on the floor at his owner’s feet was staring into the distance with a resigned look that seemed to say, why did my people bring me to this loud, crowded place. In short we’d stumbled into a party.
The styles on offer at Night Shift run the gamut, and the flavors are anything but subtle. Over the course of two 4-beer tasting flights ($8 per flight) we were able to sample more than half of the 14 beers on tap. My first impression notes are as follows:
Trifecta Belgian Pale (6.7% abv) – Brewed with three different Trappist ale yeasts, complimented with spicy European hops, and aged over vanilla beans. All elements of this beer work in harmony, which made it a strong contender for my favorite of the afternoon.
Santilli (6.0% abv) – This IPA took home the bronze medal at the 2106 World Beer Cup. No skimping on early hop additions here, Santilli is an old school leaning IPA with assertive hop flavor, aroma, and bitterness.
Harborside Gose – Intensely salty, with pucker inducing tartness, an over the top American interpretation of the gose style.
Pfaffenheck Pilsner (5.2% abv) – A German-style pilsner with a nice bready malt profile and a healthy dose of spicy, floral European hops.
Whirlpool (4.5% abv) – A session IPA that has the hazy, tropical fruit forward, low level bitterness attributes that New England IPAs have come to be known for. The name undoubtedly a clue as to when most of the hops are added.
One Hop This Time Topaz (6.0% av) – There were two single hop IPAs on offer. I opted for the one containing Australian Topaz hops. It was hazy and fruity with an aroma that pushed the boundaries of catty.
Sable – A vanilla porter that drinks very smooth, enjoyable but the vanilla might be a little heavy handed for a full pour.
Furth (5.5% abv) – More or less what you would expect from a German-style hefeweizen.
Mystic Brewing (174 Williams Street, Chelsea), former employer of Commonhouse Ales head brewer Sam Hickey, was our next stop. Although Mystic is located only two miles from Night Shift, public transit connections between the two locations are not particularly convenient. So we opted for an über, which was quick and not terribly expensive. While the two breweries are both housed in large warehouse type spaces, the atmosphere at Mystic was a sharp contrast to Night Shift. A half-wall separates the taproom from the production side of the brewery. Two bartenders were manning a handsomely crafted wooden bar with stools for 6-7 people. The crowd here was much smaller, maybe a couple dozen people, and the ambient noise level much lower, which made it possible to converse with your partner in a normal tone of voice. Celtic rock/punk (Flogging Molly, The Pogues, Shane Macgowan, …) music was playing at moderate volume through a docking station that one of the bartenders had set up behind the bar. Two couples were playing Jenga with oversized wooden blocks on an empty oak barrel, while a pair of men were playing chess at one of the tables in the back. Everything about the atmosphere was pretty chill, everything that is but the temperature. The Mystic brewery and taproom is not air conditioned, and the ambient temperature in the taproom must have been in the mid 80s.
Whereas Night Shift makes all varieties of beer, Mystic specializes in farmhouse style ales, using locally sourced yeast where possible. In fact, they won a gold medal in the indigenous beer category at the 2013 GABF for Vinland 2, a beer fermented with yeast harvested from the skin of Maine blueberries. On the day of our visit there were seven beers on tap—three saisons, a sour, a gose infused with locally sourced juniper berries, a smoked quad, and the curiously named, Too Metal for the Farmer’s Market, an imperial bitter. I ordered a flight of four beers ($9), while Laurinda opted for a tulip-glass full of saison. We picked a card game from a collection of card/board games on a shelf, and grabbed a table to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy our beers.
I found the gose (Scatteree) here to be much closer to the traditional Leipzig style, and the smoked quad (The Null) was downright delicious. Of all the places we visited over the weekend the atmosphere here was my favorite, but there’s only so long you can hang out in a room where the temperature is pushing 90 °F and we had tickets for a show in Cambridge at 7:30 pm. So after finishing off our beers we called another über and headed for the Oberon Theater near Harvard Yard.
Lord Hobo and Cambridge Brewing Company
After the show, a light hearted production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing intentionally featuring one very drunk actor, we had just enough ambition to take in one more stop. Since we were in Cambridge I suggested we get some food and beer at Lord Hobo (92 Hampshire St., Cambridge), a perennial pick on Draft Magazine’s list of the top 100 beer bars in the country. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of suggesting we cover the 1.5 mile journey on foot. Perhaps earlier in the day this would have flown, but at the end of a long day it didn’t go over very well with the wife.
Assuming you don’t make the same mistake as I did, Lord Hobo is definitely worth a visit. Set in a brick building on the corner of Hampshire and Windsor Streets roughly midway between MIT and Harvard, it’s not only one of the most acclaimed beer bars in the northeast, it’s also one of the darkest. After you pass through the velvet curtained entrance and your eyes adjust to the dim lighting you’ll see a stylish room with a U-shaped bar in the center, dark wooden tables around the periphery, and the paintings of local artists on the walls.
Lord Hobo makes their own beer, but there always seems to be something on the taplist too tempting to pass up. Against the odds I was hoping to find something from Trillium or Tree House, but that was not to be. Sticking with the local theme I had a pint of Hoponius Union from local lager specialists Jack’s Abby in nearby Framingham. I think it’s safe to say that it’s one of the most aggressively hopped lagers out there. Although the inside temperature was pleasant the atmosphere at our table remained chilly, so we paid the bill after one round and a couple of small plates of food. The mood lightened when on the way out we ran into a friend and fellow beer geek from Ohio, Ian Krajbich. He was in town to visit friends, and like us he had made the pilgrimage to Trillium earlier in the day. The improbable chance encounter seemed to get me out of the doghouse.
As you make your way from Lord Hobo to the Kendall Street metro station you pass directly by Cambridge Brewing Company (1 Kendall Square, Cambridge). I was mildly surprised that my pitch to stop for one last beer in order to break up the walk was favorably received. The hour was approaching 10:30 pm when we arrived and the place was downright dead. Laurinda found a table on the outdoor patio, while I went in to the nearly empty bar and ordered a round.
Founded in 1989, CBC was been pushing the envelope of experimental beer long before it was fashionable to do so. They claim to be the first commercial brewery in America to make a Belgian-style beer, and they’ve been producing barrel aged and sour beers for decades. I have a soft spot for Brett beers so I was immediately drawn to a beer called Jack Straw, the house golden ale fermented in oak barrels with two different strains of Brettanomyces yeast. Even at the end of a long day the fruity, musty Brett character of this delicate beer made me sit up and take note. Although I hadn’t planned it that way it seems I saved the best for last.